Unilateral hearing loss (UHL), or Single Sided Deafness (SSD), occurs when the hearing in one ear is within a normal range, while the other ear has a hearing loss ranging from mild to profound. SSD is more troublesome and common than most people realize, and often goes untreated. Total hearing loss in one ear has been found to be very debilitating; affecting work, home and social interactions resulting from the reduced ability to localize sounds or discriminate speech in the presence of background noise.
Key Facts about Unilateral Hearing Loss
Before we delve into the symptoms and treatment of UHL, let’s first explore some of the key facts around the condition:
- In the US, an estimated 60,000 people per year develop UHL.
- On average, 1 out of every 1000 children is born with UHL. This increases a child’s risk of academic, social-emotional, and speech-language difficulties than their peers with normal hearing.
- UHL may onset suddenly or progressively. It may also be congenital.
- Causes can be viral infections, Meniere’s disease, head or ear injuries, or as a result of surgical intervention to remove brainstem tumours.
- It can be associated with other aural symptoms such as otalgia, tinnitus and vertigo.
Symptoms of Unilateral Hearing Loss
Symptoms of unilateral hearing loss vary, and can include:
- An inability to pinpoint the origin of sounds in a space. This can prove dangerous in situations where auditory awareness is important, such as when navigating traffic or driving.
- Difficulty hearing on one side.
- Difficulty isolating the source of sound especially in the presence of background noise, resulting in a blurring effect.
- Reduced confidence and overall well-being.
- Frequent stress and irritability as a result of difficulty communicating
- Social isolation; avoiding meetings, busy places, social/family gatherings
Treatment for Unilateral Hearing Loss
Less severe cases of UHL are can be managed with conventional hearing aid technology in conjunction with aural rehabilitation and effective communication strategies. This includes advising individuals how to minimize the impact of UHL, such as learning to adapt to the condition and their environment. This can include avoiding overly crowded, noisy environments or selecting seating positions carefully.
More severe cases of UHL may be treated with assistive hearing devices. One such hearing devices is known as ‘Contralateral Routing of Signals’, or (CROS). CROS hearing aids are made up of a hearing aid shell which contains a receiver, and a secondary unit that includes a small microphone system. The receiver unit sits in or behind the unaffected ear, while the microphone system sits on the ear impacted by UHL. The microphone system picks up sounds, and then transmits these sounds to the receive on the good ear. CROS devices look like regular hearing aids but the sound is directed to the better ear.
CROS hearing aids can also be further divided into two additional categories. Bi-CROS hearing aids are used when there is also some hearing loss in the better ear. The signal from the poorer ear is transmitted like in a typical CROS system, but it is also amplified and cleaned up so that it can be heard more easily on the better hearing ear. Amp-CROS hearing aids are capable of stimulating the worse ear with sound, but they also transmit signals to the better ear at the same time. These are used with patients with some residual hearing in the poorer ear who may want to have a small amount of stimulation on that side to help reduce the presence of tinnitus symptoms.
Another treatment method is known as the bone-anchored hearing aid (BAHA) system. A BAHA is clipped onto a small titanium implant that is surgically anchored in the bone behind the impaired ear. The processor picks up sounds and transfers them to the good ear by vibrating them into the bone inside your skull. This process enables sounds to be heard and understood from both sides of an individual. BAHA hearing aids are also used in patients with severe conductive hearing loss.
The treatment options for UHL depend on the severity of the condition. If you suspect that you or a loved one may be suffering from unilateral hearing loss, don’t delay speaking to a hearing specialist. Call us on (212) 786-5741 or click here to Request An Appointment today.